SHAKESPEARE'S Shylock is going to Guangzhou.
The moneylender's unusual 'journey' takes place in an opera presented by the Guangzhou Cantonese Opera Troupe, called For The Heiress' Hand.
It is an adaptation of Shakespeare's classic play The Merchant Of Venice and is part of a week-long repertoire of Cantonese operas it is performing from Saturday.
The 100-member China troupe, established in 1956, will be presenting six other operas, including well-loved classics like Snow In Midsummer. The aria from the opera is a karaoke favourite.
The season is presented by Tung On Wui Kun, one of the oldest clan associations in Singapore, the Chinese Opera Society and the Chinese Opera Institute.
For The Heiress' Hand is set in Guangzhou and Macau in the 1900s. All the characters are Chinese, but they act out the well-known plot of an intelligent heiress outwitting a villainous moneylender who demands a pound of flesh from a debtor.
This is not the first time the troupe is pushing the envelope. In fact, it is known for injecting radical and sometimes controversial updates to the traditional artform.
In 2004, it put on Hua Yue Ying at the Singapore Arts Festival. The lavish production with modern, unconventional components, such as orchestral music and a chorus of singers, was a story of love shared by a Qing dynasty army officer and an opera actress.
It sparked off a debate between Cantonese opera purists and general audiences on whether modern opera compromised its stylistic conventions too much to win new audiences.
But troupe manager Ni Huiying says For The Heiress' Hand, which will play at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre on Sunday night, is less avant garde and retains many of Cantonese opera's traditional elements.
'We keep the aesthetics of Chinese opera, such as its singing style and music, which are very beautiful,' she tells Life! over the phone from Guangzhou where the troupe is based.
On why the company chose to adapt the Bard's work, she says: 'Shakespeare belongs to everyone culturally. He is timeless as his works reflect questions of humanity.'
She adds that The Merchant Of Venice is particularly attractive as it has an exciting plot and deals with universal themes of love, greed and justice.
Ni plays Zhu Xiya, Portia's counterpart in the opera, a rich and witty heiress who must marry in order to inherit her father's estate. The veteran actress, who declines to give her age, has been performing for more than 30 years.
Guangzhou and Macau were chosen as settings because, like Venice, they were cosmopolitan and commercial hubs in the 1900s. The opera premiered in Guangzhou on Valentine's Day this year to rave reviews.
Audiences here should look forward to an entertaining and moving evening, says Ni.
'The scenes are engaging, and the story full of twists and turns. Expect an exciting Chinese version of the Shakespeare story.'
The season of performances by the Guangzhou Cantonese Opera Troupe starts this Saturday at the Kreta Ayer People's Theatre and runs for a week, with a different opera performed each night. Tickets cost $15, $20, $25, $35 and $50. For tickets and details on the programme, call Tung On Wui Kun (tel:6223-4416) or Kreta Ayer People's Theatre (tel: 6222-3972).